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The Scriptorium

The Gospel and Public Policy

Paul humbled the magistrates who treated him unjustly.

Acts (15)

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24.27

This week’s video is presentation 15 in our study of Acts, and looks at the work of theology in the ongoing work of Christ. You can view it by clicking here (scroll down to Lesson 15).

Read and meditate on Acts 16:35-40.
Paul and Silas spent the rest of the night in jail. Why? Why didn’t they flee? Why did they choose to continue to submit to injustice? Probably for the sake of the jailer and his family.

For reflection
1.  They continued to suffer indignity so that their brethren would not suffer death. The grace shown them by the jailer thus returned to the jailer through Paul’s and Silas’ willingness to continue in bonds. How would their decision have likely affected that jailer?

2.  The city had quieted down by morning, so the magistrates sent the cops over to tell the jailer to let Paul and Silas go. Now the fun begins. It was public policy in Roman cities to act pragmatically at times rather than always follow the letter of the law. Roman magistrates had a good bit of power to ignore law when order was at stake. That was public policy. But pragmatic public policy, when it does not coincide with the ongoing work of Christ, must not be obeyed. Was Paul acting unwisely here? Explain.

3.  Paul rejected Roman pragmatism. He would stand by the written public policy of Roman government, namely, that you don’t beat and jail Roman citizens without first trying, hearing, and formally condemning them. No. He would not go. Let them come and make nice to him. Let them be humbled by their own breach of Roman policy and their own terror of the law they so freely abused, just to maintain order in their town. Paul intended to strike fear into these local magistrates, if not of God, at least of Caesar. How does doing this fit with proclaiming the Kingdom of God?

4.  Can you see these magistrates, hats in hands, heads bowed, muttering their “We’re sorry” and asking– asking, for crying out loud – the apostles to move on. Does the Gospel have power? It certainly emboldened Paul to enter the public policy arena, challenge local practice, and insist on justice. And it humbled those who in their hearts knew he was right and they were wrong. Paul and Silas did not immediately leave the city. First, they had to attend to the needs of the brethren. Do you suppose the strength they had shown made an impact on the Philippian believers? Paul and Silas would leave Philippi, but on the time-table of their Kingdom agenda. Do you think our world today would be different if more believers lived on the Kingdom agenda of Christ, rather than the pragmatic agenda of a politicized, materialistic culture? Explain.

5.  Late in the fourth century an ostensibly Christian emperor, Theodosius, would pull that pragmatic bit in Philippi, slaughtering a bunch of folks who didn’t please him. When he showed up in church in Milan after that grisly event, he was publicly called out, humiliated, and excommunicated by the pastor, Ambrose. Theodosius repented, was restored, and became an able and godly ruler of the Empire. The Kingdom of God has rules, and not even emperors can act above them. Paul had made that clear in Philippi, and Ambrose was simply following suit. Should Christians today expect their faith to have an impact on public policy? In what ways?

Policy, shmolicy – when the Gospel and Law of God are our guiding light and power, we don’t have to live by the standards and practices of an unrighteous age. Paul ran another risk in standing up to those local magistrates, but he knew what he was doing. Do you ever find your Christian beliefs to be at cross-purposes with our unbelieving age? Explain.

Closing Prayer
Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
While I live I will praise the LORD;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;
In that very day his plans perish.
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help…

Psalm 146.1-5

T. M. Moore

Each week’s studies in Acts are bound together into a free PDF that you can download for personal or group use (click here). Each week also features a video related to the studies of the week, which you may find helpful as you work through our studies in Acts.

Acts is the record of Christ’s ongoing work as King and Lord. This is the work of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. Read more about the implications of this work in our new book,
The Kingdom Turn (click here).

Please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452. Or, you can click here to donate online through credit card or PayPal.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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